So it was Hip, Hip, Ole for wine expert Barry Starmore, taking part in Sharrowvale’s last cheese and wine evening before his double hip operation. He’s not that ancient, he’s the victim of too much sport in his youth and too many cellar steps in his working life.
Eat more cheese, Barry. Cheese contains calcium which is good for the bones. And wine is good for the soul. So, because he is particularly fond of Spanish wines the theme was Iberian, except for a short detour to Hathersage.
This is a monthly event jointly arranged by Barry and his colleague Jefferson Boss with grand fromages Nick and Nicky Peck of the Porter Brook Deli in the premises of Seven Hills Bakery, which provides the benches and the bread. So that’s three local businesses acting as partners in the same street.
For most of the 30 or so present the star of the show was a Calle Real cremoso, a sort of instant fondue. Warm it up slightly, whip the top off and spoon out the creamy, runny interior or dip your bread – in this case a Seven Hills Spanish torta. There’s a slight tang from the thistle rennet. I’ve had a similar cheese in Portugal and it’s a show stopper of a first course in restaurants.
Barry partnered this with a lemony Vina Costeira Ribeiro 2014, a blend of five local varietals. They all worked well together.
The night had opened with, what else? Manchego 1640 cheese, hard and crystalline, a little reminiscent of grana padana. It was offered with two glasses, an admirable fino sherry, Fernando de Castilla en Rama, and a fruity red, Altamente Monastrell, which my wife rather liked. Louise from Seven Hills handed round slices of very good Spanish baguette.
Save a little of the red, said Barry and the reason soon became clear. We had suddenly switched countries and were in Hathersage. The evening was the debut of Sheffield’s nearest (and only) local cheese, Stanage Millstone, the cheese version of a minty Polo: It’s got a hole in it.
“There are a lot of old millstones lying around around our fields,” said artisan cheesemaker Sophie Summerlin, explaining the shape and the name. She and her husband James make and mould it by hand with milk from their neighbour’s farm, as they keep sheep and pigs themselves (and the latter enjoy the whey).
We had two versions, a very runny Brie-like cheese and the same cheese which had matured for another two weeks into a firm, creamy texture, and my own personal favourite.
Sophie and James have been selling it at farmers’ markets and I would imagine have already built up a following. The hole serves a purpose. It helps the cheese mature quicker.
There was enough cheese on offer to induce nightmares but let’s end with one on the night. First there came the cheese, a gutsy blue, La Paral, made by another husband and wife team, this time in Asturias, Northern Spain. It came with a clever strawberry studded and star anise flavoured bread specially baked by Seven Hills.
“Don’t sniff,” ordered Barry as he handed around glasses of a brilliant red liqueur, Pacharan Ordesano, but I did. It smelled of aniseed.
There is a lovely story to this drink. The makers go out into the fields and pick sloes to infuse with gin, along with vanilla, coffee beans and whatever, then they wait for the flavours to meld before bottling it. Then they drink it. That’s the difficult bit. You’ll love it if you like Benylin cough syrup, hate it if you don’t.
Let’s just say I reckon this won’t be the first bottle Barry will be reaching for when he comes around from his op.